Pok Pok proprietor dishes on Thai secrets in new cookbook

Pok Pok proprietor dishes on Thai secrets in new cookbook
Austin Bush

Andy Ricker may have opened multiple Thai restaurants, traveled and cooked extensively in Southeast Asia for 20 years, and, just last week, published a cookbook of northern Thai dishes from his Pok Pok chain, but the James Beard Award-winning chef insists he is still learning.

“I see myself as a student of Thai food,” said Ricker, who opened a Brooklyn Pok Pok in the Columbia Street Waterfront District last year. “Every time I go to Thailand, I have a dish I’ve never heard of.”

So it makes sense that the recipes Ricker shares in his new cookbook “Pok Pok” are not your average Thai take-out. And if you buy the book looking for a rundown on how to make Pad Thai, you will be disappointed.

“In the West, we often think of Thai food as a cheap commodity food,” said Ricker. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s only a small part of the story.”

Ricker’s interest lies in seasonal and regional dishes, such as Khao Soi Kai (Northern Thai curry noodle soup with chicken), Som Tam Thai (Central Thai-style papaya salad), and his famous fish sauce wings.

His favorite recipe, which is on the permanent menu at Columbia Street’s Pok Pok NY, is one of the more involved. Laap meuang is a spicy, hand-minced pork “salad” that requires about 15 different ingredients for its spice paste and demands mincing the meat by hand — a task that can take upwards of 45 minutes.

Thai-tan: Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker is telling all about how he does it in the kitchen.
Fei Long

“There’s no other way around it,” said Ricker. “You could grind the meat up and end up with something that tastes like Hamburger Helper, but this way you end up with something different and special in flavor. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

The entree is one of 70 recipes featured in the book, which Ricker co-wrote with JJ Goode. It also contains essays about Ricker’s travels and experiences running a small restaurant empire that now consists of seven spots in Portland and New York. The most recent addition, a bar called Whiskey Soda Lounge NY, opened down the street from Pok Pok NY a couple months ago. The two spots will get even closer later this year, when Pok Pok NY relocates a few doors down to a space that is twice the size of its current digs.

When Ricker is not splitting his time between Portland and New York, he is in Thailand, where he goes two to three times a year to retune his palate, pick up new tricks, and try new dishes. One day, he hopes to write a definitive cookbook of Northern Thai food. But he still has a lot to learn.

“That’s going to take years,” said Ricker. “It’s an incredibly diverse and wonderful food culture.”

Andy Ricker and JJ Goode, the authors of “Pok Pok,” read at Smorgasburg (East River State Park, 90 Kent. Ave. at N. Seventh Street in Williamsburg, www.smorgasburg.com). Nov. 9,12:30–2:30 pm, free.

Pok-out: This new Thai cookbook will teach passport-less Brooklynites how to whip up obscure regional dishes without leaving the borough.
Fei Long